Manhattan Nocturne

Manhattan Nocturne by Colin Harrison

Book: Manhattan Nocturne by Colin Harrison Read Free Book Online
Authors: Colin Harrison
The movie caused a sensation at the …”
    The movie was sixty-two minutes long, and it seemed that if I was going to see Caroline again, it might not be a bad thing to view one of her late husband’s movies. Back in the office, I slipped into an unused conference room and started the tape. The movie, set in New York, involves a black subway motorwoman, Vanessa Johnson. A world of rushing through dark corridors toward trash and rats and red signals turning green, the train’s two beams of lights sweeping ahead of her as if searching interminably for something. Vanessa is about thirty-five and unmarried, the mother of three, and believes herself to be finished with the affections of men. She must deal with thieves who steal copper signal wire from the subway tunnels and lay the wire across the track so that it is cut by the passing trains, and she is confronted with a homeless man whose arm is severed when she runs over him accidentally as he lies drunkenly on one of the rails. Her face allows no expression, her eyes show no hope. Her only solace seems to be a battered cassette player, on which she plays Mozart’s Requiem from beginning to end, starting the tape just as her shift starts. One evening she notices an older Chinese businessman. He rides her train every night, stepping onto the train at the same point in the music each time. She watches him in the side mirror of the motorman’s booth as he enters and exits, always wearing a tailored suit. In time they speak. His name is Mr. Lu. He inquires about her and she tells him little, yet by her manner intimates that she would like to know more about him. Mr. Lu runs a wholesale hardware-supply store in Chinatown, rides home to Queens each night. After several dates—each of which is marked by awkwardness and tension—Vanessa gives herself over to him, insisting only that he not touch her between her legs with his hands. Something happened a long time ago and she is reminded of it when—he nods. He is gentle with her, and yet
his manner remains reserved. He prefers not to tell her of himself, only that he lived in China until the 1970s. The film is suffused with a strange and potent eroticism, for while neither character is conventionally sexy, each is clearly hungry for the passion that has eluded them both until this moment. Eventually Vanessa learns that Mr. Lu has serious heart trouble—each time they have sex literally imperils him—and that he served as one of Mao Tse-tung’s executioners during the Cultural Revolution. In a long and grieving monologue on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, tourists around them videotaping one another and eating ice cream, Mr. Lu explains that he has personally executed more than eight hundred men—and fourteen women, one of whom was pregnant He goes on to tell Vanessa that he no longer understands the world, only that he has played an evil role in it He admits that he hated black people intensely after he emigrated to America, thinking them dirty and stupid. He has never had a family, he says, and wishes fervently that he had lived a different life. He believes that Vanessa is a very good woman who “deserves honor.” He wishes someone to know that he feels remorse for what he has done. He fears that he will soon die at any time, perhaps climbing a stairway or crossing the street. He asks Vanessa if she will allow him to ask her a “question very terrible.” She says yes. He says that he thinks he can induce a fatal heart attack in himself and would like to try it while having sex with her, in order that he might not die alone but in the arms of a woman. She says she will think about it Several days later she tells him no. He is respectful and quiet. When they are to meet again she is told that he has died that very day, lifting a heavy box in his store. The movie ends with an agonizingly long shot of Vanessa inside her subway car, the voices of the

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